Treating Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Most likely, our cultural ignorance regarding male sexual abuse stems from the fact that American males (and males in most other cultures) are expected to be invulnerable and to not feel emotional pain. In other words, guys are supposed to be macho and in control and to fend for themselves. And these beliefs are inculcated at a very early age. Straight out of the womb, in many cases. This despite the fact that boys are every bit as vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, as girls.

My colleague Dan Griffin writes and speaks extensively about the rules for being a man and the deleterious effects thereof. In a 2013 interview posted here, Dan says, “We tell men don’t cry, don’t show your emotions unless it’s anger, be strong, don’t ask for help, don’t be vulnerable, be sexually aggressive, put work before relationships, put success before relationships. Basically we tell them that power and having power is central to being a man. [This means] it’s against the rules for men to acknowledge trauma. So [as traumatized men] we spend a lot of time telling ourselves that whatever it is that happened to us wasn’t painful, that we’re not suffering.”

Sadly, these man rules seem to apply even with sexual abuse. As a result, males tend to keep their sexual abuse secret, stuffing their feelings and living in denial about what happened. So instead of talking about their trauma, they clam up, either taking it to the grave or delaying disclosure, often for years on end. In fact, the organization reports that the average length of time between male sexual abuse and disclosure is twenty years, and this number does not account for abuses that are never reported. Essentially, the man rules tell us that guys are not allowed to be abused, and if they are abused, they are not allowed to admit it, and if they do admit it, they can expect to encounter not empathy and support but disbelief and disdain.

Sometimes people seem to think that sexually abused males are defective and toxic because they were sexually abused. Or maybe people think they were defective and toxic before the abuse, and that’s why the abuse occurred. Neither belief is true, of course. But people nonetheless think this way.